Learning photography is not easy. Camera’s these days are complex and the subject of photography itself is an expansive one with many nuances to contend with. As you use your camera more, and study the subject of photography, analyze the work of others etc., the whole process becomes second nature, and, generally speaking, there is no set path to learning. That said, there are some things I think all amateurs should do, and this is one of them.

The inspiration for this article came from a friend who is currently getting his feet wet in our field. He recently went on a short course for beginners in which the instructor, a seasoned photographer, told them to shoot in automatic and semi-automatic modes while learning. Despite understanding the logic, I could not disagree more.

Yes, within the comfy confines of Auto for those first few months they will have less photos where the exposure has been missed. But, by shooting in automatic modes, you’re allowing the camera to do all / some of the thinking. In other words, you are not learning very much. It’s like doing a test and being given the answer key, or riding a bike with stabilizers and not taking them off. There is nothing wrong with using automatic and semi-automatic modes on your camera, but ONLY once you know exactly what your camera is doing to achieve the desired exposure.

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Simple Photography Tips | The Exposure Triangle

The exposure triangle is a relatively simple concept which explains the three core settings used to acquire “correct” exposure. It’s a visual representation of the balancing act that we go through. As one of those settings is adjusted then one or two of the others must also be. Attaining accurate exposure is a balancing act between all three.

I’ve often found the exposure triangle to be quite confusing for new photographers. Why? It encourages people to think along these lines, “what settings do I need for correct exposure?”. They get bogged down there and focus on numbers. That leads people to ask questions like “what camera settings did you use?” as if there are some magic numbers that produce nice images all ’round -there aren’t by the way, sorry.

[REWIND: WHY ‘WHAT CAMERA SETTINGS SHOULD I USE?’ IS A POINTLESS QUESTION]

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Simple Photography Tips | My Advice To All Beginners

Firstly, shoot in Manual mode only. Once you are comfortable there, you can move on to other modes should you wish. You can’t learn while keeping the stabilizers on. Secondly, change the way you approach camera settings. Rather than thinking about what numbers you need to achieve the “correct” exposure, start thinking about what you want from your photo. Often, once you know what you want to achieve, the settings almost take care of themselves – or at least your’e not shooting by numbers. Start with your primary concern. For example:

“I need to freeze motion”

From there, you adjust the setting which controls that effect / need; aperture for depth of field, shutter speed for motion and ISO for shooting in dark environments (broad generalization here). After that, it becomes a little more blurry; this is where experience comes in. Your next considerations could be something like:

“I need to freeze motion AND I want a shallow depth of field”

So now you know, you need a fast shutter speed AND want a wide aperture (low number). You then use those settings as the basis for your final setting. It plays off the other two.

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Summary

Shoot in Manual mode only, once you’re comfortable with the exposure triangle and the effect that each setting has, you are permitted to move on.

When making your decisions, consider either the effect you want to achieve (shallow depth of field) or the need you have (to freeze motion). Learn what settings you need to accomplish the look and work from there, i.e. f4 and below for a shallow depth of field. Adjust your settings one after the other, starting with the one which controls your primary effect/need. Then, attack the secondary effect/need and finally bring the third one in to achieve correct exposure.

For more simple photography tips, check out the other articles in this series:

[REWIND: WHAT TRIPOD HEAD IS RIGHT FOR ME?]

[REWIND: 8 THINGS TO DO WITH A NEW CAMERA]

[REWIND: 5 TIPS TO FRAME THE PERFECT PHOTO]

[REWIND: UNCOMMON AND ESSENTIAL CAMERA SETTINGS]

[REWIND: YOU’RE A BAD PHOTOGRAPHER IF YOU DON’T KNOW…]

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